Stanley Cup Finals Preview - Buffalo vs. NY Rangers

Stanley Cup Finals Preview - Buffalo vs. NY Rangers

Stanley Cup Finals Preview - Buffalo vs. NY Rangers
April 24th, 2007

(Sports Network) - After finishing just one win shy of a Stanley Cup finals berth last season, the Buffalo Sabres came into this postseason with tremendous expectations and were able to keep that level of optimism afloat in the opening round.

The Sabres, this year's Presidents' Trophy recipient as the league's best team in the regular season, were able to shake off a slow start to the 2007 playoffs and dispose of the New York Islanders in five games.

Buffalo's Eastern Conference quarterfinal series was tied at one game apiece and the Islanders seemed to have momentum in their favor after winning Game 2 with No. 1 goaltender Rick DiPietro back in net for the first time in weeks. However, Buffalo regrouped and won both road games on Long Island before closing out the series in Game 5 at home.

Two of the Sabres' four wins in the opening round came by just one goal and Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller played a big role in those close victories. Miller was excellent against the Isles, posting a 2.21 goals against average and .918 save percentage while playing all five games.

The 26-year-old's four wins in the series also moved him into sole possession of second place on the club's all-time playoff victories list. With 15 wins, Miller passed Don Edwards and Bob Sauve's mark of 13 victories, but is still a long way from reaching Dominik Hasek's team mark of 37 triumphs.

Miller displayed his ability to make a lead hold up in the closing minutes of the series against New York. With Buffalo holding a one-goal lead and just 12 seconds left on the clock, former Sabre Miroslav Satan charged the net and Miller came up with an impressive save on his shot before stuffing Alex Yashin's rebound attempt from the right post to preserve the win.

On the offensive side, the Sabres relied on their tremendous scoring depth to get past the Islanders. Eleven different players scored a goal in the quarterfinal round and 10 players finished the series with three or more points.

Chris Drury led Buffalo with four goals and his five points tied him with Daniel Briere (1 goal, 4 assists) and Dainius Zubrus (5a) for the team lead.

The Sabres were decent on the power play in the opening round, as they converted on 4-of-24 (16.7-percent) of their opportunities. Buffalo also killed off 17-of-19 penalties (89.5-percent).

NEW YORK RANGERS (6th seed, East)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 42-30-10

2007 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Atlanta 4-0 in conference quarterfinals

REVIEW - The New York Rangers were eager to erase the memories of a brief stay in the 2006 postseason and achieved that in this year's first round.

After getting swept by the rival New Jersey Devils in last year's conference quarterfinals, the Rangers were able to deal Atlanta the same fate in the opening round of the '07 playoffs.

New York, the sixth seed, made quick work of the Southeast Division champions, as it outscored the Thrashers, 17-6, in the four-game sweep. The set featured an impressive 7-0 blowout victory in Game 3.

The Rangers, who ended a seven-year playoff drought with last year's short- lived postseason run, have advanced past the opening round for the first time since 1997, when they made it to the conference finals before falling to Philadelphia.

New York also swept its first playoff series since dropping the Islanders in the opening round of the 1994 postseason. That year, the Rangers went on to win the club's first Stanley Cup title since 1940.

The Rangers rode their hot goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to the quick series win over Atlanta. The 25-year-old Swede allowed just six goals on 99 total shots in the series, posted his first playoff shutout and finished the set with a 1.50 GAA and .939 save percentage.

New York spread the wealth on offense, as it had nine players with three points or more against the Thrashers. Michael Nylander was the leading scorer for the Blueshirts, notching four goals and four assists, and Jaromir Jagr added seven points (2g, 5a).

Jagr has an impressive 162 points (69g, 93a) in 153 career postseason contests.

The Rangers were impressive on special teams in the first round, as they foiled 16-of-17 penalties (94.1-percent) and scored five goals on 24 power- play opportunities (20.8-percent).

MATCHUP

The Sabres didn't play their best hockey in the opening round and were still able to dispose of the Islanders in five games. However, Buffalo will have to play better if it wants to get past the conference semifinal series against the Rangers.

While the Sabres were clearly one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference for the entire regular season, New York didn't begin to turn heads until the last few months of the campaign.

The Blueshirts went 17-6-5 to end the season and was victorious in eight of their final 11 scheduled tests. Combine that with the first-round sweep of Atlanta and it's pretty clear that New York is much better now than when they season began.

The Sabres and Rangers met four times during the regular season and Buffalo swept the season series. However, the last of those encounters came on December 1, months before New York began playing its best hockey.

All in all, this should be a close battle between a pair of teams with tremendous scoring depth. Also, both No. 1 goaltenders have the ability to steal a few wins for their teams in this series

However, Buffalo gets the upper hand because it has proven its mettle with consistent play all season long. The Sabres have too much firepower for most teams to contend with over the course of a seven-game series and that fact should keep the Rangers from extending their postseason any further.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Sabres in 6

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Re: Stanley Cup Finals Preview - Buffalo vs. NY Rangers

Breaking down the Eastern Conference semis
April 24, 2007

Sabres (1) vs. Rangers (6)

Leading playoff scorers

Sabres: Goals -- Chris Drury (5); points -- Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Dainius Zubrus (5)

Rangers: Goals -- Michael Nylander (8); points -- Nylander (4)

Goaltenders

Sabres:Ryan Miller -- 4-1, 2.21 goals against average, .918 save percentage. Backup -- Ty Conklin

Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist -- 4-0, 1. 50 GAA, .939 save percentage, 1 shutout

Backup -- Kevin Weekes

Keys to series The Rangers rolled over the Thrashers in four straight and the Sabres needed only one more game to get by the Islanders, so both teams are well-rested and ready to go.

Lundqvist was outstanding against Atlanta, but he's got a much bigger challenge coming at him now. The Sabres are deeper, faster, tougher and more talented than the Thrashers.

They'll have to keep their cool against the Rangers, find a way to ignore irritant Sean Avery and stay out of the penalty box.

More importantly, they need to shut down Jaromir Jagr and Michael Nylander.

The Rangers, in turn, cannot afford even a momentary lapse of focus or intensity against Buffalo. And when the game is on the line, they better keep an eye on Chris Drury, who is one of the game's all-time great clutch players. The streaky Rangers are on another roll, but has the time between rounds cooled New York off?

Prediction: Sabres in 6.

www.sportingnews.com

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